Editor’s note: The “Senior Spotlight” series highlights the successes of the top varsity letter-winners from the recent Milton High School graduating class. For the class of 2017, three males (Dalton Shea, Cameron Pumilia and Nick Richards) and one female (Lexie Halma) earned nine varsity sports letters. All four made the honor roll or high honor roll, as well.
Every athlete has his story about how he got involved with sports. But nearly all stories come back to one common theme: his parents (or someone) encouraged him.
Cameron Pumilia, who earned nine varsity letters in three sports and another letter from the Spanish Honor Society in his time as a Milton High School athlete, was no different.
Ron and Christine Pumilia encouraged their son to get involved in sports.
His dad pushed him to join golf at a young age and enrolled him in lessons at Oak Ridge Golf Course in Milton. There he was under the guidance of MHS head coach Kirk Wieland.
“I remember going to Bonny Meade (Links) twice a week and just getting excited to jump in the car to play golf,” Pumilia said. “There was no feeling like it.”
His mom forced him to learn swim at a young age and put him through lessons at MHS. However, it was another gimmick that might have gotten the 2017 MHS graduate to actually stick with swimming.
“I remember my first time putting my head under water,” Pumilia said. “I didn’t want to do it, but my dad and mom told me they would buy me a Spiderman towel if I did. Long story short, I got a Spiderman towel.”
Pumilia’s parents had no influence on his decision to run cross country. He said he thought it would be a great way to get ready for swimming his freshman year, but ended up loving the sport.
“I saw it as a way to compete,” Pumilia said. “I remember my first day of cross country, we did a route called ‘bitty block’ and I couldn’t walk when I got home, but the first thing I said to my mom was that I loved it with all my heart and that it was the most fun practice I have ever been to.”
Balancing three sports and other extra-curricular activities with school work was not easy. Handling sports and six AP classes the first half of his senior year with no study halls was challenging, Pumilia said.
“I would stay up late at night and sometimes even pull all-nighters in order to get my school work in on time,” Pumilia said. “During the first semester of my senior year … I would do homework until the sun came up quite literally one to two nights a week to keep up.
“I never gave up though and I think that’s the reason I got pretty good grades all through high school. The ability to come home from a hard practice and still crank out between two and eight hours of homework at night is just crazy to think about, but somehow I stuck with it.”
Overall, Pumilia said he credits his success in sports to his dad.
“He would always be the person who knew I could do better when I didn’t think it was possible,” Pumilia said. “Without his help I could not have lettered this many times.”
When asked what sport was his favorite, Pumilia was not reserved in saying cross country was it “hands down.” He earned four letters in the sport.
“I loved the feeling of pushing yourself and becoming better than you once were – essentially becoming a better version of yourself and learning that you are stronger than you think,” Pumilia said.
After being a co-captain during his last season, coach Syl Groeschl named Pumilia the head captain at the banquet. He said he attributes everything he accomplished in cross country to Groeschl.
“He believed in me, pushed me and gave me everything I needed for success, and for that I thank him with all my heart,” Pumilia said.
After sitting out for nearly six months due to injury this past year, Pumilia had a personal-best time of 17 minutes 53 seconds (15th best in school history) in the 5-kilometer race at the WIAA Division 1 Beloit Memorial Sectional Meet. He found out a week later that he ran that race with two stress fractures in both femurs, he said.
“Coach Groeschl had a quote on the back of our T-shirts and it is, ‘Believe in the power of you,’” Pumilia said. “That quote will forever be in my mind and I will never forget that because that is what cross country is.”
Pumilia said he finished his first time trial at Milton’s home course with a time of 32 minutes. He cut more than 14 minutes off that time by the final race of his senior year.
“I believed in the power of me and had something to show for it,” Pumilia said. “That is why I love cross country. I love having hard work pay off and having something to show for the hours I practiced and the pain I endured. That is why it’s my favorite sport to compete in.”
His memories from his time as a runner for the Red Hawks include “carb loading” at pasta parties and playing football at Jeremy Woodcock’s house.
“It was the greatest game of football I have ever played,” Pumilia said.
Groeschl, who coached Pumilia for two years, said he has very high regards for him.
“He was injured going into senior year, and as a captain, it bothered him that he couldn’t be running at every practice,” said Groeschl, who also awarded Pumilia with the Red Hawk Cross Country Scholarship. “But, he still came during the summer just to make sure his teammates new how much he appreciated them.
“He was finally allowed to practice again, so he took every advantage he could to be successful at cross country. I got my treadmill and StairMaster set up at school and he would meet me every morning at 6:15 to practice for an hour so he could be as good as he could be. I knew he was still hurting but he wouldn’t let you know it … As a coach, you wish for runners like Cameron to have on your team.”
Pumilia was captain of the Red Hawk golf team this past spring and said he will continue golfing into the future.
“I thought that I had a pretty good year helping the team in dual meets,” Pumilia said. “Many of my accomplishments in golf were with the help of my team because it is a team sport. We placed third in sectionals and only missed team state by a few strokes to teams we could have beat, but that’s golf – at the end of the day, it’s who played better and they did.”
Pumilia said he always watched his dad golf growing up and golf was something he wanted to be good at like his dad.
“I would try to mimic his swing and posture to help my game and I ultimately became the golfer I am today because of him,” Pumilia said.
Pumilia said one thing he’ll always remember about golf is staying at the hotel with the team at the conference tournament. The experience included Wieland teaching the team how to play racquetball.
“We bonded together so much over those two days,” Pumilia said.
Wieland said Pumilia was the personality of the team on the van rides to and from events.
“He maybe didn’t always have the scores that he would have liked, but no question about it, he was the hardest worker on the team,” Wieland said. “He was at the course early mornings and late at night, sometimes with flashlights. He put the time in to improve, and he did.
“He’s an incredibly nice player; just a good kid, a kid that all coaches want on their team for sure.”
Pumilia didn’t always have the drive for swimming like he did for golf or cross country. He quit swimming twice before even getting to MHS, and then quit again his junior year at MHS to try church league basketball.
However, swimming was another activity that he could strive to be the best that he could be.
“At a young age I wanted all the blue ribbons for myself, so I credit my success in swimming really to my younger self,” Pumilia said.
He swam with the Milton Marlins and competed on the USA team, but left to join a more elite team to further his abilities in the water, he said.
“Ultimately, it forced me to hate swimming,” Pumilia said.
It was a good thing for the Red Hawks that he got back in the pool for most of high school. He was the co-captain of the team this past school year, finishing fifth at the Badger South Conference meet in the 200-yard freestyle and sixth in the 500-yard freestyle.
Pumilia was also less than a second away from a state-qualifying spot this past season in the 200-yard freestyle.
“That was tough to know that I tried my best, but my best wasn’t good enough,” Pumilia said.
However, he formed many memories in the pool, including dragging himself to practice over winter break every morning and night so the team could play water polo on the morning of Christmas Eve.
“All the years I was on the team, the idea of creating teams and being super competitive with friends on the swim team created such a great experience for me that I will never forget,” Pumilia said.
Pumilia plans to study sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and eventually move on to medical school. He will also compete on the UW-La Crosse swim team.
“To just move on to the next level of competition is such an honor that I will surely not take for granted,” Pumilia said.